I was privileged to preach at my home church this morning. Our pastor was absent and asked me to fill in while she was gone. While I have become fairly accustomed to being a substitute preacher in other places, it still feels strange to take that role in the church I have belonged to for over 25 years. I chose to talk about the prophet Jeremiah. My pastor was right--it was almost harder to rework a previous sermon than it would have been to simply start with a blank page. But I managed, by the grace of God, and the congregation was more than gracious in response.
As I struggled to find God's word for this morning, I was helped greatly by Eugene Peterson's introduction to the book of Jeremiah in The Message. He pointed out that Jeremiah lived in a time in some ways not so different from our own. There was war in the Middle East, and life for Jeremiah's people in tiny Judah was changing radically--much as life seems to be changing radically around us in our own time. Jeremiah tried repeatedly to call his people back to an intimate relationship with God that would sustain them in the tough times they faced. But like us, the people of Jeremiah's day were so caught up with the struggles of their everyday lives that they found it hard to spend the time required to have an intimate relationship with God. I know I struggle each day to make time in the midst of the day's challenges to spend quality time with God. So I suppose in large part I was preaching to myself.
I love Jeremiah's proclamation that I used as the basis for the sermon: "The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.... I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." Jeremiah 31:31-34. My husband probably explained it best in his children's sermon as he told the children that learning something by heart means you always have it with you. And then he taught them the Shema: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one. You shall love the Lord, Your God, with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your strength. I can't think of a better way to describe an intimate relationship with God, the kind of relationship that can sustain us through whatever challenges come to us in this life.
Grace and Peace,